Gerald Ford is one of my favorite presidents of the United States of America and there are only two reasons for that. Number one is due to the fact that he attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; that is my school. Number two was the way he answered the question posed by his predecessor, Richard Nixon. We Malaysians perhaps have our own Nixon in form of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and how we deal with the Prime Minister may parallel what President Ford had done.
For the longest time, Dr. Mahathir was the only Prime Minister I had ever known. In all channels, from television to radio to printed press, I could not remember any single day that passed by without the mention of his name. He was everywhere, every time.
A friend once mentioned to me that Dr. Mahathir has done more to Malaysia more than anybody else, for better or for worse. A general statement such as that may not survive upon closer scrutiny but it is easy to agree to such rhetoric. Because all of that and more, I have this kind of attachment to him. It is a kind of earned respect that is impossible for time to erode.
Yet, I am a firm believer of justice and Dr. Mahathir has done a lot of wrongs as the chief executive officer of this country. To every action, there is a reaction and that concept is central to the way I live my life and my worldview.
There are many components that make up a successful society and one of them is trust of individuals toward various institutions. A state institution which fails to defend justice will lose its credibility and a society with such institutions will inevitably spend more time fighting for justice instead of discovering its true potential.
Hence, I face a moral dilemma between respect that I have for the man and justice.
Upon reflection, I came to recall the Watergate scandal in which President Nixon was the main actor. The scandal forced him to resign from his office as criminal conviction loomed on the horizon. Gerald Ford then became the 38th US president.
The issue of conviction could bring about a very divisive period and President Ford realized this. Instead of letting that happened, he gave Nixon an unconditional pardon, hereby allowing the first step of healing to take place.
And healing is what Malaysia needs at the moment. Whatever Dr. Mahathir had done in the past, he should be pardoned.
That however does not mean we should forget his gross violations of individual liberty and the corruption of all three branches of government that he caused. No. We should learn from the past and strive not to make the wrongs made in the past.
Towards that end, what we need is a truth and reconciliation commission, not another royal commission solely set up to bring the man down. There is a fine line between justice and vengeance and I at the moment do not have an appetite for witch hunting, especially when it greatly benefits others with less than innocent political motives and ambitions. What has passed has passed and it is time to move on.
In times when the stability of the federal government is suspect, whoever the next Prime Minister would be, I wish for him to tread the path President Ford had treaded on.
p/s — a version of this article was first published by The Malaysian Insider.